Even two traditionally strong Wake County 4A high school baseball programs sometimes run short on pitching and boot the ball around.
That was the case as Apex survived with a 12-8 win over Sanderson in the final of the Wake County Invitational played under the lights Monday night at Optimist Park, the Spartans’ home field.
Apex had 10 hits against three pitchers, but the Cougars also benefitted from five walks, a hit batter and five Sanderson’s errors. Apex was forced to use four pitchers that gave up six walks and were hurt by four errors.
With the victory, the Cougars of the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference improved 9-2, while Sanderson of the Cap 8 dropped to 7-4.
Apex’s first three batters loaded the bases with a single from Estaban Valencia, a walk to Ben Highfill and James Hooks hit by a pitch to advance, but Sanderson still had a chance to get out of the inning.
"Hungry teams want to beat us and we've played great games with these guys in the past,” Valencia said. “Some games our sticks carry us and some days our pitchers. This wasn't our day with the errors, but we played hard."
A ground ball that could have been a double-play ball was instead a throwing error to home plate that allowed Valencia to score. Instead of one or two outs and two runners on, the bases were loaded with still no outs. C.J. Conrad followed with a two-RBI single for a 3-0 lead that was 4-0 before Sanderson recorded its first out. Another throwing error made it 5-0.
Apex sent 12 batters to plate in the first inning. Valencia, a senior center fielder finished the top of the first with a single, a run scored, a double and an RBI.
Valencia finished the night 3-of-5 with two runs scored to go with his RBI. Shortstop Ben Highfill was 1-of-4 with a double and two RBIs. First baseman James Hooks contributed a two-RBI single in fifth inning for the Cougars’ final runs of the night.
The 8-0 lead suggested the game could end early with the mercy rule, but Sanderson scored three runs in the third, four more in the fifth and one in the sixth.
Sanderson loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but Sam Highfill got the final out with a strikeout.
“They did a great job of fighting and hanging around. We had a good weekend with a lot of postives to take away from it,” Sanderson coach Todd Laughlin said. “One of them was our heart and desire to hang around and make this a competitive game.”
Sanderson’s Ray Stocum was 2-of-4 with one run scored and two RBIs.
Apex catcher Nick Montrose prevented Sanderson from scoring one or two runs in the fourth with some strong defensive play on two pitches in the dirt with the bases loaded and one out. Drew Bucholz found his control in time to strike out the last two batters to get out of the jam. He pitched four innings for the victory.